How's this shamatha practice going?

J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Hi fellow DhOers, I'd like to check in with some of the experienced meditators regarding pure shamatha practice.

In shamatha practice, the following things can happen. I describe them in the order listed, along with what I think they are. What I'd like to know is this: Am I correctly identifying these states, and do you see any ways I can improve their depth and stability?

First, I do progressive muscle relaxation, then release of mental tension (per Ayya Khema's instructions about "letting go," or Bhante V's instructions about relaxing the head and mind) along with the gentle smile. From this point on, I maintain mental relaxation, and release any tension as soon as I notice it. The tension seems to be associated with the action of any of the 5 hindrances, and decreasing the tension decreases the hindrance.

After that, I do breath counting to further stabilize the mind. By this point, the mind is inclined to happily go wherever I tell it to, and stay there much longer than usual. The stability gets disrupted whenever the tension returns, though the disturbance is minimal if I release the tension quickly.

I think this state, where the mind is happy to do what I want it to (as long as it stays relaxed), is access concentration. Its main characteristic is that the mind chills out and no longer sees any good reason to bounce off the walls like a hyperactive child.

Next, I can dwell on happy thoughts ("It feels so nice to be away from those hindrances. I'm excited that my concentration is improving!" etc.) until the contentment is amplified into delight. Once delight is stable, I find a pleasant sensation in the body and put the mind right there. It needs to be a specific, precise location. The usual choice is the pleasant feeling of one of my cheeks lifting in a grin. (The cheeks only lift in a delighted grin, not in the quietly content half-smile.) Attention is not too stable at this point, so it must be supervised to be kept at the cheek. If I stay at this sensation without letting mental tension return, it slowly grows from delight to excitement. If I stick with the excitement, it becomes stronger and I eventually get "into the zone" with the excitement. This state has the mental elements of happiness and interest, and a physical sensation that is exhilarating and very alive. The sensation starts in the cheek, but can expand to fill the entire body.

I think that state is the first jhana. Its main characteristic is excitement.

After the pleasure has become stable, I can let go of the attentional supervision and effort attentional effort. The mind becomes calmer, and the bodily sensation changes from an energized rush to a more relaxed sense of enjoyment. In this state, it stops seeming like I'm creating the pleasant sensation by keeping the mind glued to it. Rather, the pleasant sensation is simply there, and the mind is automatically staying with it because there's nothing else it particularly wants to do. The meditation object can now be the pleasant sensations of the entire face grinning, or what feels like a fountain of happiness upwelling through the body.

I think that state is the second jhana. Its main characteristic is relaxed enjoyment.

From there, I can let go even more. The facial expression changes from a grin back to the soft half-smile. The body feels less alive and energized, but it's still nice. This state is like sinking into a comfortable bed with soft sheets for an after-lunch nap -- pleasantly lazy. Attention is weird in this state. It's aimed at a general direction, but the clarity is higher in the periphery of that direction than in the center of it. This is perfectly fine, and not at all destabilizing, as long as I keep the mind relaxed. When focusing on bodily sensations there's something like that odd postural thing that happens in the Three Characteristics stage, where it feels like you're tilting/falling over, asymmetrical, or otherwise distorted. Unlike the 3C Posture Thing, this sensation is mildly pleasant despite its weirdness.

I think that state is the third jhana. Its main characteristic is a peaceful and lazy happiness. Everything is fine.

The next stage requires me to move from "letting go" to Really Deeply Letting Go. The mind has to be so fine with everything that it really sees no problem with letting go of the previous state's pleasure. More importantly, the mind has to let go of selective attention itself. This state feels very very restful, more than any state before it -- yet it also has more clarity and less laziness than the previous state. I won't mince words: the mind feels downright sedated, yet somehow not dull in the slightest! I don't know how that makes any sense, but that's what it feels like.

My eyes usually open up halfway in this stage, because I can't be arsed to hold them closed anymore. If this state is very deep and stable, the eyes stay half closed. If I become curious about how my surroundings look or how visual attention is operating, the eyes will open themselves all the way. No effort is required; it just happens once the curiosity has arisen. The entire visual field can be effortlessly noticed, though not all at the same exact time. Vision somehow seems astoundingly clear, even though it's blurry because the eyes are unfocused. I can focus the eyes on the object that they're gazing at, but it's sort of pointless -- the rest of the visual field stays blurry because the eyes can only focus at one depth at a time.

This state is most stable when the meditation object is the calming and relaxing of the mind, a.k.a. the Letting Go. With open eyes, I can also stay with the wide and spacious nature of attention -- though that requires a mild touch of effort, and it doesn't let the state become as deep as the focus on Letting Go does.

I think that state is the fourth jhana. Its main characteristic is peace. Notably, the afterglow from this one blows the afterglows from the other 3 states out of the water.

So, does it look like I'm on the right track with these shamatha jhanas?

Very much appreciation to all of the pragmatic dharma communities for making this information accessible to the public! Special thanks to everyone on this forum and elsewhere who has provided free, high-quality information on the jhanas.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going? (Answer)

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Hey J Adam G,

Very nice descriptions! I believe your concentration practice is going great.

J Adam G:
After that, I do breath counting to further stabilize the mind. By this point, the mind is inclined to happily go wherever I tell it to, and stay there much longer than usual. The stability gets disrupted whenever the tension returns, though the disturbance is minimal if I release the tension quickly.

I think this state, where the mind is happy to do what I want it to (as long as it stays relaxed), is access concentration. Its main characteristic is that the mind chills out and no longer sees any good reason to bounce off the walls like a hyperactive child.

Sounds good.. maybe even 1st jhana

J Adam G:
Next, I can dwell on happy thoughts ("It feels so nice to be away from those hindrances. I'm excited that my concentration is improving!" etc.) until the contentment is amplified into delight. Once delight is stable, I find a pleasant sensation in the body and put the mind right there. It needs to be a specific, precise location. The usual choice is the pleasant feeling of one of my cheeks lifting in a grin. (The cheeks only lift in a delighted grin, not in the quietly content half-smile.) Attention is not too stable at this point, so it must be supervised to be kept at the cheek.

I think this is already 1st jhana. It has to be specific, as 1st jhana's focus of attention is quite narrow. And as you say, attention is not too stable, and you have to work to keep it where it is.

J Adam G:
If I stay at this sensation without letting mental tension return, it slowly grows from delight to excitement. If I stick with the excitement, it becomes stronger and I eventually get "into the zone" with the excitement. This state has the mental elements of happiness and interest, and a physical sensation that is exhilarating and very alive. The sensation starts in the cheek, but can expand to fill the entire body.

I think that state is the first jhana. Its main characteristic is excitement.

Getting "into the zone" with excitement may already be the second jhana. If you no longer have to maintain the effort, that's already 2nd jhana. (As the suttas describe, with the dropping of applied and sustained thought...)

J Adam G:
After the pleasure has become stable, I can let go of the attentional supervision and effort attentional effort. The mind becomes calmer, and the bodily sensation changes from an energized rush to a more relaxed sense of enjoyment. In this state, it stops seeming like I'm creating the pleasant sensation by keeping the mind glued to it. Rather, the pleasant sensation is simply there, and the mind is automatically staying with it because there's nothing else it particularly wants to do. The meditation object can now be the pleasant sensations of the entire face grinning, or what feels like a fountain of happiness upwelling through the body.

I think that state is the second jhana. Its main characteristic is relaxed enjoyment.

Definitely 2nd jhana. Energized rush -> relaxed sense of enjoyment makes me think even 3rd jhana, maybe. Energized rush sounds like piti, and relaxed sense of enjoyment, like sukha.

J Adam G:
From there, I can let go even more. The facial expression changes from a grin back to the soft half-smile. The body feels less alive and energized, but it's still nice. This state is like sinking into a comfortable bed with soft sheets for an after-lunch nap -- pleasantly lazy. Attention is weird in this state. It's aimed at a general direction, but the clarity is higher in the periphery of that direction than in the center of it. This is perfectly fine, and not at all destabilizing, as long as I keep the mind relaxed. When focusing on bodily sensations there's something like that odd postural thing that happens in the Three Characteristics stage, where it feels like you're tilting/falling over, asymmetrical, or otherwise distorted. Unlike the 3C Posture Thing, this sensation is mildly pleasant despite its weirdness.

I think that state is the third jhana. Its main characteristic is a peaceful and lazy happiness. Everything is fine.

What makes me 99.9% sure it is 3rd jhana is what you mention about attention - clarity is higher in the periphery than in the center. It can be confusing, but you seem to have gotten the hang of it. If you were using an open-eye kasina, here, the edges would become predominant, and the center, dark. Remember this well if you're doing more insight-heavy practice - it can help you get thru the 3rd vipassana jhana. Also you seem to have lot of equanimity present here with "everything is fine", so maybe hints of 4th jhana in here... but yea as the jhanic factors drop away, the ones that remain are more prominent, so 3rd jhana sounds accurate.

J Adam G:
The next stage requires me to move from "letting go" to Really Deeply Letting Go. The mind has to be so fine with everything that it really sees no problem with letting go of the previous state's pleasure. More importantly, the mind has to let go of selective attention itself. This state feels very very restful, more than any state before it -- yet it also has more clarity and less laziness than the previous state. I won't mince words: the mind feels downright sedated, yet somehow not dull in the slightest! I don't know how that makes any sense, but that's what it feels like.

Yep, sounds like 4th jhana. A great place to begin investigation of phenomena, eh?

J Adam G:
My eyes usually open up halfway in this stage, because I can't be arsed to hold them closed anymore. If this state is very deep and stable, the eyes stay half closed. If I become curious about how my surroundings look or how visual attention is operating, the eyes will open themselves all the way. No effort is required; it just happens once the curiosity has arisen. The entire visual field can be effortlessly noticed, though not all at the same exact time. Vision somehow seems astoundingly clear, even though it's blurry because the eyes are unfocused. I can focus the eyes on the object that they're gazing at, but it's sort of pointless -- the rest of the visual field stays blurry because the eyes can only focus at one depth at a time.

This state is most stable when the meditation object is the calming and relaxing of the mind, a.k.a. the Letting Go. With open eyes, I can also stay with the wide and spacious nature of attention -- though that requires a mild touch of effort, and it doesn't let the state become as deep as the focus on Letting Go does.

I think that state is the fourth jhana. Its main characteristic is peace. Notably, the afterglow from this one blows the afterglows from the other 3 states out of the water.

I haven't had the urge to open my eyes in these states. Do what works for you! But try keeping your eyes closed - it's easier to deepen the state and get into the formless realms with eyes closed. If you go from Really Deeply Letting Go to Double-Plus Super Letting Go (of sensations relating to form, visual boundaries, physical boundaries, etc.) then those may drop away too and you'll find yourself in the Dimension of Boundless Space. Though I think it's much easier for a stream-enterer (not sure what attainments you have).

J Adam G:
So, does it look like I'm on the right track with these shamatha jhanas?

Very much so! What're you gonna do from here?

J Adam G:
Very much appreciation to all of the pragmatic dharma communities for making this information accessible to the public! Special thanks to everyone on this forum and elsewhere who has provided free, high-quality information on the jhanas.

Doh i forgot to charge for my advice again! =P.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Thanks guys, good stuff. Ian, you mention that with a more mature practice, it won't take so much work to establish clarity and equanimity. That's exactly what I want to work on. Kasina practice taught me to move the mind to the first 3 jhanas by using their respective widths of attention, but those jhanas were so soft that I didn't find them useful for anything. These firmer jhanas seem way more useful, so I'd like to develop them to the point of entering firm fourth jhana without having to spend 20-30 minutes getting ready.

Claudiu, to answer your question about what I plan to do with this practice, I have two goals. The first is to improve my concentration abilities from now through the rest of this semester. Currently, firm jhana only comes when I'm well-medicated, well-rested, and after doing progressive muscle relaxation. I'd like to be able to do firm jhana without those training wheels by the middle of May, when I'm done with this semester.

At mid-May, I'll switch to concentrated insight practice. The goal is stream entry by July 31st. Exploring the formless realms sounds really cool, so I'll use that as a reward for myself after stream entry. It's another carrot to dangle in front of myself, to make sure I actually DO the insight practice instead of just talking about it.

One other word -- the jhana practice doesn't feel unwieldy or complicated like my description does. The jhanas seem very simple and natural. This is basically all my mind notices during a sit: "Exciting! Fun. Happy. Quiet." It's disruptive for the mind to do anything other than that. If it does, I release the mental tension and it stops doing the other things.

After the sit, analytical thinking kicks in. It reviews what I remember from the sit, and wonders "What was that? Do I know how to do it again?"
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
New question.

I just practiced shamatha, but sleep deprivation has impaired my concentration a bit. I'm irritable when sleep deprived, which destabilizes the jhanas. So, rather than equanimously accepting the soft jhanas, I tried to deepen them. It only partly succeeded.

Something new and interesting happened in the fourth. Since my usual ways of strengthening concentration failed, I tried Letting Go really hard. Letting Go usually strengthens all the fourth jhana factors. But this time, the equanimity and restfulness increased while the clarity of the bodily senses decreased sharply.

If felt like "I" literally withdrew from the distracting, bothersome stimuli of the body in an attempt to escape the irritable feeling. I retreated into a place even more quiet and equanimous than the fourth jhana. Touch and hearing dropped away, and vision shifted from perceiving the light coming through my eyelids to perceiving dark nothingness.

I couldn't sustain the intense Letting Go long enough to get completely into this new state. I only had enough concentration to get close to it.

Is this the beginning of the fifth jhana? I ask because this thing seems more like the first stage of sleep than "infinite space." The only "space" I noticed was the dark nothingness in front of my eyes, and it wasn't growing to infinity. The only thing that seemed to be growing was the restfulness and the dissociation from the body. It could become infinite with more concentration. Is there an "infinite peaceful dissociation" jhana I don't know about?

The only time I encounter anything like this state is when I try to fall asleep by imagining the feeling of sinking deeply into my bed. That, and also once when I went under anesthesia.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
J Adam G:
Something new and interesting happened in the fourth. Since my usual ways of strengthening concentration failed, I tried Letting Go really hard. Letting Go usually strengthens all the fourth jhana factors. But this time, the equanimity and restfulness increased while the clarity of the bodily senses decreased sharply.

If felt like "I" literally withdrew from the distracting, bothersome stimuli of the body in an attempt to escape the irritable feeling. I retreated into a place even more quiet and equanimous than the fourth jhana. Touch and hearing dropped away, and vision shifted from perceiving the light coming through my eyelids to perceiving dark nothingness.
...
Is this the beginning of the fifth jhana? I ask because this thing seems more like the first stage of sleep than "infinite space." The only "space" I noticed was the dark nothingness in front of my eyes, and it wasn't growing to infinity. The only thing that seemed to be growing was the restfulness and the dissociation from the body. It could become infinite with more concentration. Is there an "infinite peaceful dissociation" jhana I don't know about?

It's probably the beginning of the 5th, seeing as how you got to it from the 4th. Only other option would be 7th but you didn't go through 5th-6th and you would have noticed. Particularly, the 7th isn't Infinite anything, it's just the Dimension of Nothingness, while the 5th is the Dimension of Infinite/Boundless Space. So if there's something that could grow infinite, that's 5th jhana. The formless jhanas are indeed quite peaceful, though they might be a bit unnerving at first before you get used to them (I get excited when going into them sometimes, and that makes it hard to maintain it).

It happened this way for me, too. I just started noticing that the bodily feelings I normally feel were starting to be interspersed with not-feeling them... that they were fading away. It was quite weird! I recommend you try again if you wanna see what's up with it.

To deepen the state, think about what you consider as a boundary. The bodily feelings are a boundary, cause they imply where your body starts and ends, and you were already dropping those away. In your visual field, what is a boundary? Notice if you close your eyes, even though everything is black, you still think of the visual field as having some kind of bound. Focus on that bound and focus on letting go of that sense of boundedness and you might just see that boundary drop away to reveal boundless space.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the advice; I now think it's the 5th like you said. I haven't gone all the way into the 5th yet, perhaps because of my standing resolution to stay out of the formless realms until after stream entry. I don't think about the resolution during jhana practice, but it still seems to work.

One last development: In daily life, it seems easier to start with the fourth jhana and work backwards than to go access concentration -> first jhana -> other jhanas. The simple Letting Go practice establishes access concentration automatically and stabilizes a soft version of the fourth jhana. Then I can jump to other jhanas as desired. I've never heard anything about this, so I'm wondering if other people have done anything like it.
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
J Adam G:
One last development: In daily life, it seems easier to start with the fourth jhana and work backwards than to go access concentration -> first jhana -> other jhanas. The simple Letting Go practice establishes access concentration automatically and stabilizes a soft version of the fourth jhana. Then I can jump to other jhanas as desired. I've never heard anything about this, so I'm wondering if other people have done anything like it.


hmm not sure, others will have to chime in. i know i had a lot o trouble identifying the fourth jhana, and still do, perhaps. you may just be establishing equanimity early on, so your 'soft fourth jhana' is equanimity + access concentration, then you go through the jhanas normally, up to a 'hard fourth jhana' which is fourth jhana proper. i have heard that you can call up jhanas out-of-order though, with enough concentration, so 'tis definitely possible.
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going?

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem:
J Adam G:
One last development: In daily life, it seems easier to start with the fourth jhana and work backwards than to go access concentration -> first jhana -> other jhanas. The simple Letting Go practice establishes access concentration automatically and stabilizes a soft version of the fourth jhana. Then I can jump to other jhanas as desired. I've never heard anything about this, so I'm wondering if other people have done anything like it.


hmm not sure, others will have to chime in. i know i had a lot o trouble identifying the fourth jhana, and still do, perhaps. you may just be establishing equanimity early on, so your 'soft fourth jhana' is equanimity + access concentration, then you go through the jhanas normally, up to a 'hard fourth jhana' which is fourth jhana proper. i have heard that you can call up jhanas out-of-order though, with enough concentration, so 'tis definitely possible.

This is a good question, J Adam. And it is one that I have struggled with understanding in the past. You may find that as your experience matures in the practice of jhana that you will notice some anomalies that are not covered within the traditional or even the contemporary commentary about jhana practice. In these cases, you will need to just do as you have done here and seek second opinions in order to corroborate your own experiences.

I've spent a great deal of time contemplating the models of jhana that are presented both within the Pali suttas and which are commented upon by contemporary practitioners who have some experience in this practice (practitioners such as Ajahn Chah, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhante Gunaratana, Ajahn Sumedo, and other monastics as well as less well publicized practitioners such as Geoff Schatz and John Yates, two experienced practitioners whose opinions I value, with whom I communicate from time to time). In the course of that time, I've been able to develop some conclusions about this area of development which have more or less solidified into an acceptable personal view about these matters. Not everyone agrees with these views; however, I've not come upon any subsequent data which might disprove them either. Therefore, I accept them as the truth about what is possible as it accords with my own more mature experience in these matters.

J Adam G: "Then I can jump to other jhanas as desired. I've never heard anything about this, so I'm wondering if other people have done anything like it."

It has been my experience (as well as the experience of others who have corroborated my experience) that yes, this is possible. In my Consciousness Log (a journal of my meditative experience which I keep) I made the following entry back in December of 2006:

IanAnd:
In a post which John Yates (Culadasa) posted on Jhana_insight (Dec. 24, 2006), he mentioned that there is a stage in the development of concentration (samadhi) which is without piti/sukha. I found this illuminating as I have had a similar experience in endeavoring to locate the piti/sukha after I had developed my meditation practice to a certain point. This remark would seem to go along with many of the other similar experiences I have had with the meditative process in that there is a sign at one point to help the meditator to be able to determine where they are in the process of the technique they are using, which then disappears after a while (in subsequent meditative practice, that is). It seems as though the sign was meant to appear only once or twice and then to subside so as not to become a distraction in practice.

He [John Yates] then makes the following statement: "It seems this dry 7th stage of single-pointedness without piti/sukha can be passed through quite quickly, or it can last a very long time. I am trying to understand why this is so, and to discover ways of helping people to get through it more quickly. The need to be wary of developing distraction and dullness and making an effort to stay single-pointed seem to be obstacles to piti/sukha arising. When, through practice, the mind can stay focused without the need for watchfulness and effort, then piti begins to arise pretty quickly. But sometimes the meditator tends to keep up the effort long after it has become unnecessary, so then he needs to learn to 'stop trying'."

He then went on to describe the time several flies landed on his face and started walking around and wouldn't leave. "Throughout this I exerted myself to remain focused on the sensations of my breath and to observe them with the utmost clarity. It really was an effort. Then the last fly went away, and after a bit it became apparent he wasn't going to return. What a relief! I let go of all that effort and just rested on the sensations of the breath, and then there it was, piti/sukha spreading over me in waves and then stabilizing. I have been grateful to that fly ever since. But it wasn't as though I could then repeat the experience at will. Letting go again was harder than it might seem, and I needed to learn a lot about this issue of control and the ego-fear of letting go of control over my mind before I could experience piti again. And even more so in order to be able to do it thereafter with any degree of consistency."

So apparently, the experience of the piti/sukha returned for him, which would seem to rule out my idea that it was meant for only a sign to encourage the meditator to continue making a diligent effort at practice during a certain stage of his practice. I have had occasion to experience piti/sukha after having gone through the preliminary stage of the development of jhana, but it was of a more refined and less agitating nature, so subtle as to almost be not noticeable at all.

John then goes on to describe his thoughts on the reason the Buddha rejected certain parts of the jhana experience as indicative of enlightenment. He says: "It is not unusual for a meditator who is becoming familiar with piti/sukha and becoming skilled in its generation to conclude that this is Enlightenment, that they are Enlightened and have discovered the antidote to all suffering. There are many warnings about this in meditation texts and commentaries. . . . A bhikkhu whose life revolves between long periods of jhanic absorption in meditation at the level of 4th jhana or beyond, the flow activity of performing his monastic responsibilities, and the flow activity of teaching while basking in the adulation of his students, might well conclude that this is Enlightenment, that the suffering of the world has been transcended . . . . Perhaps this is what first Alara Kalama, and later Udakka Ramaputta offered the Bodhisattva. But as I think you must know quite well, this meditative pleasure and jhanic bliss is not easily come by nor easily sustained. It requires a lot in the way of supporting conditions, and even then it is vulnerable to the exigencies of life, pain, sickness, old age, and death. . . . So, yes, once again I am saying that it is the conditioned and impermanent nature of piti/sukha and the jhanas in general that caused the Buddha to reject them as the final answer. . . . It is obvious that he did not reject the jhanas as a tool. The Suttas are replete with references to jhana practice as a part of the Path. But it is, I think, equally obvious that simply abiding in the formless jhanas, or any of the jhanas for that matter, is not the goal of the Path."

As for this interpretation which John outlines, I also fully agree that this is the case. He continues, stating: "It is apparent that the Bodhisattva was fully aware of the Truth of Suffering, the Truth of the Cause of Suffering, and the Truth of the End of Suffering (perhaps not as Aryan Truths, because he lacked the Insight of an Arya, but certainly as facts readily evident to the attentive mind). What he had yet to find was the Truth of the Path to Desirelessness that brings about the complete and permanent end of suffering, and he could see that sitting in jhana was not going to do it. Jhana practice in and of itself greatly attenuates desire but does not destroy it, and as the passadhi of jhana fades, desire returns." This, too, I can agree with.

He then progresses to make an even more refined point about samadhi (concentration) and sati (mindfulness) which I too have seen the light about. After explaining what the Buddha did (in the way of austerities) in an effort to remove desire from the mind and finding that these austerities were not working, "he put aside the failed remedies and decided to turn his attention to a more thorough investigation of the problem itself. . ." The Buddha then discovered a new use for the jhanas: "All of a sudden these same tools have a new use and purpose. He was not interested in the piti/sukha or the bliss of the higher jhanas. It was the single-pointed focus of samadhi and the intensity and clarity of awareness of sati that the Bodhisattva recognized as the tools he needed for his investigation. This is what the Bodhisattva recognized when he remembered his childhood experience. It is in upacara samadhi and the first jhana, not the higher jhanas, that conscious awareness takes an object other than mind itself and that its investigative power is therefore most obvious. And it is in the 4th jhana that the mind itself is the primary object of awareness. And so this is what he used as the basis for his investigation and what led to his Insight into the process of becoming, or Dependent Origination."

John continues: "At one time I was puzzled by the two different descriptions of the Buddha's Enlightenment. First there is the one in MN 36 where he describes the knowledge of the recollection of past lives, the knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of creatures, and the knowledge of the exhaustion of taints. Then there is the one in SN XII, 65 where he describes his Insight into Dependent Origination. The first of these two seems to be about siddhis, and so one may wonder if the attainment of the siddhis in the 4th jhana is essential to Insight and Enlightenment. But then I realized that both accounts are talking about the same thing. If one examines the course of life after life of being after being, a consistent pattern emerges and becomes apparent, one that is repeated not only in one lifetime after another, but also in each day between waking and sleeping, and most especially from one moment to the next, over and over again. The Buddha analyzed this pattern and gave us the links of Dependent Origination as a result. With the benefit of his Insight and analysis, we don't need to examine hundreds of thousands of lifetimes ourselves, we only need to examine our own experience as it unfolds moment by moment every day in this very lifetime to understand this pattern. We don't need the 4th jhana in order to have Insight into Dependent Origination. We only need to have the samadhi and sati necessary to practice Satipatthana."

And it is here that I concur most strongly with his impressions. This parallels my own progression of realization about this process and the need to develop concentration (samadhi) and mindfulness (sati) to a greater degree in order to practice Satipattana. John then concludes by stating: "So what the Buddha rejected was the idea that simply practicing the jhanas and enjoying jhanic bliss was the Path to the End of Suffering. And he rejected it because they are conditioned and impermanent and do not provide complete and final liberation. But he certainly embraced the jhanas as a means to that ultimate Path."


Use this information as you see fit.

On a related note, I have begun to write an addendum which I plan to add to the "A General All Purpose Jhana Thread" which will explore this issue with regard to "What Jhana is" in more depth, and should help others to better make out and discriminate their own experience in these matters. Once I have more time available to me, I will finish that addendum and add it to that thread.
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: How's this shamatha practice going? (Answer)

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Your description is a bit wordy and unwieldy, and the practice itself even more so, but I have to concur with Claudiu's assessment. I never went into the kind of detailed journey that it takes for you to arrive at the same place, but whatever works for you is fine, and this sounds as though it is working. Keep up the good work.

I would just add, don't become too attached to this way of viewing entering the jhanas. You may find, as the maturity of your practice ages, that you need fewer and fewer of the crutches used in order to arrive at mindfulness and equanimity coupled with clear awareness. Maturity of practice usually has a way of enhancing directed thought in such a manner that you may eventually be able to arrive at fourth jhana almost instantaneously once meditation has been initiated. This is because clarity of mind has previously become so well established, over and over, that even the slightest hint of mental inclination can take you directly where you wish to go instantaneously. I mention this so that you won't spend months and months trying to evaluate these changes in your ability to enter this kind of "fixed concentration" (appana samadhi) thinking or wondering whether or not you're still entering jhana.

And to Claudiu: "Doh i forgot to charge for my advice again! =P." Nice catch. Had a bit of a chuckle at that one...Good sense of humor. emoticon

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